Some ten minutes after falling to sleep, I’m wakened by my cellphone alerting me for a text message. My heart beats a bit faster, as there could be some emergency since very few people know my cellphone number, who wouldn’t text me in the middle of the night to send a joke. I fumble in the dark to check out the message:
From 0927 85323537: “Hi! This is ham of chinatrust bank, offering cash loan from 1.39% up to 1.79% monthly, for employed and self employed, if interested pls reply.”
I’ve been receiving such infuriating SMS ads continuously, a few examples:
• From 0916 4704006: “CARITAS HEALTH SHIELD INC. Offers a pre approved comprehensive health card with money back guarantee. If your [sic] interested pls reply with your name, age and address; Our health consultant will assist you shortly. Thank you!”
• From 0926 7862602: “As part of our Thanksgiving program, you are entitled to receive exclusive rewards and privileges from Manila Bankers. Look for Christian Pangilinan, (02) 5708838”
Samples of SMS ads received by the author’s Globe service, at right by the telcom itself.
• From 0906 10572333 : “Get up to 1M Cash Loan w/as LOW as 1.39% int/mo! No Collateral/ NO Cash Out. Easy Approval Interested? Txt Ur email adres [sic] company and basic pay. THANKS Gerard.”
There is even for Christsakes a help-wanted ad, from 0917 8531619 : “Alliance in Motion Global, Inc. is urgently in need of Part Timers for our Local & Global Expansion. Earn 10T to 30T per month on your spare time. For slot reservation text your Fullname/Age/Educ.Attainment to 0917-667-5547. “
Globe itself actually has been texting me these irritating advertisements:
• “Use your Globe Rewards points to buy form Rose Pharmacy…”
• “You can now use your rewards points to pay for any beverage or meal at Figaro branches nationwide!”
Why is Globe allowed to get away with such intrusion to my privacy? I pay for the use of the cellphone service. Why do I have to suffer ads for using such service I’ve paid for?
(Probably Smart and Sun are also doing it, but I have no idea, as I’m forced to use Globe, because only this Ayala company has service where I live.)
I’m sure that only Globe has my cell phone numbers, as I have never given such information to anybody else, not in raffle stubs, not even to my bank.
There are two serious issues raised by Globe’s unsolicited ads sent through text messages.
One, is it selling cell phone numbers to companies or advertisers? Why is it allowed to do so when I pay for the service, yet Globe makes money on top of that by selling ads sent to my cell phone?
Two, if it is not a company policy, then its staff are selling the cell phone numbers of its subscribers issued to advertisers. If this is the case, then Globe has very serious corporate management problems. Is it investigating these serious breaches of security and people’s privacy?
We may be the “text capital of the world”, but—unsurprisingly—consumers aren’t being protected by the state against ravenous practices of a telecom giant, in contrast to what happened in other countries many years ago.
Ten years ago the US enacted the “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act” which makes it illegal to send unsolicited commercial messages not only through e-mails but to cell phones as text messages, without first receiving the consumer’s permission. The law was in a way an updating of the earlier “Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991”, which restricted telephone solicitations, i.e., telemarketing. The United Kingdom, Australia, and the European Union enacted similar laws against email spams and unsolicited cell phone ads.
Several suits had been filed in the US and Europe invoking these laws. The largest settlement involved $10 million, imposed on the book publisher Simon & Schuster, which outsourced its promotional campaign to a marketing company that sent messages to 100,000 phone numbers.
Cell phone companies abroad even provide its customers a means of stopping these phone spams. Subscribers to American firms AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint can easily report spam by forwarding the spammers’ numbers to the companies’ special four-digit numbers set up just for that purpose. There are similar systems in France, U.K. and even India. With such a system, 300 spammers were disconnected in France in 2011.
Here? Going by the way Globe sends messages telling customers that their “Globe Rewards” can be exchanged for some product, it is even telling business to use this new venue for advertising.
Miracle of miracles, three legislators you’d love to hate filed bills to ban unsolicited cell phone ads.
Senator Manuel “Lito” Lapid filed a bill titled “Cellular Phone Message Spamming Protection Act of 2010” that would impose a P500,000 to P1 million fine or imprisonment form six months to six years to anybody or any company sending unsolicited advertisements through text messages. The bill though didn’t get anywhere, and the Senator seems to be busy this new 16th Congress defending himself against a media operation alleging his misuse of his pork barrel funds.
In the House of Representatives, Congressman Emmanuel Pacquiao—yep, Manny Pacquiao—filed also in 2010 the counterpart bill, his version imposing a fine of P20,000 to P100.00 per violation. It wasn’t clear though in the bill if “per violation” for each unsolicited text message. Then Congressman Joseph Victor Ejercito (“JV Estrada”) also filed nearly an exact but separate bill.
The three bills didn’t even get to the stage of being referred to the appropriate committee discussions and public hearings, and died with the end of the 15th Congress.
But this may not be simply due to the power of the telecoms duopoly over our legislature.
How much the cell phone could become a game-changing direct link to the masses dawned on me the other day when I was filling up at a gas station in a rural area far out from Manila: A peanut vendor in dirty slippers, a middle-aged woman, was amusing herself making tsismis with somebody on her cell phone. The vast masses have cell phones!
My conspiratorial mind imagines a scenario in 2016, if there is no law prohibiting unsolicited cell phone messages:
The two telecoms firms decide to intervene in our political sphere. A day before the elections, they send a message to just a fourth or a tenth of the country’s 70 million cell phone subscribers: “Candidate Joe is corrupt”, or maybe the traditional cheap rumor: “Candidate Bong withdraws from race.”
Impossible? I got a text message from Globe the other day, obviously a cautious test of the market if it can accept political messaging:
“Know our local celebrities’ views on the 4th SONA. Read reactions from Bianca Gonzalez, Robi Domingo and KC Concepcion at http://bit.luy/1bbyXtc using quotable quotes form PNoy’s speech.”
The message will lead you to a propaganda piece reporting celebrities fawning over President Aquino and his purported achievements entitled “SONA 2013: A positive and promising report on progress: celebs react using ‘quotable quotes’ from PNoy’s speech.”
A yellow telecom conglomerate? You bet. It even secretly owns an online news site, whose content—those gushing over Mr. Aquino or hitting its enemies—would, I bet, be texted free to its subscribers as 2016 approaches.
Even George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984 couldn’t imagine his Ministry of Truth having such a direct line to the masses.